How the producers of Fraggle Rock were indirectly trying to prepare Us for the people we would meet later on in life‏

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by Ryan Meehan

One of my favorite shows growing up was Fraggle Rock. Jim Henson was one of the most imaginative minds in all of television, and I can remember genuinely being saddened when he died. I was obsessed with that show and watched it religiously because I loved the characters. There were so many of them, and I felt like I was being entertained without the preachy corporate sponsorship that the letter F was shoving down my throat over on Sesame Street. (Sometimes it was even the letter D, which I think speaks volumes about what was really going on with Ernie and Bert) My parents even bought us the vinyl record album, which always seemed to mysteriously disappear the day after my father held his head in anguish as my sister and I played “Catch the Tail by the Tiger” for the fifteenth consecutive time.

Now that I’m older, I tend to see characteristics in certain people that I should have been prepared for given my familiarity with that show. The producers of that series were really trying to prepare us for the people that we would later meet in real life. But this was a show for kids, so they couldn’t exactly be overtly suggestive when it came to the tendencies that we all now know those characters had. So this piece is a trip down memory lane. A tribute to the crudely constructed puppets that made Fraggle Rock their home done for the sake of analyzing their ins and outs and comparing them to our peers. These are the some of the theories I believe the producers were indirectly trying to hammer into our brains, starting with the characters themselves.

The Fraggles

Fraggle: Gobo

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Characteristics exhibited in the television series: Standard Alpha Male Qualities

Characteristics exhibited in real life: Gym membership, either a newer Ford Mustang or Chevy Silverado

Who he is now: Your boss and anybody who was previous president of his college fraternity

I always viewed Gobo as a bit of an overachiever…He was the “Come on guys!” dude that wanted you to believe his way was the right way even though the premise of his motives typically resulted in awful consequences. According to an online source, Gobo is considered to be “An unfailing pragmatist, he resists the influence of his friends”…Sound like anybody you know? Of course…it’s more than likely the guy you report to at work. He’s constantly telling you to throw out ideas that you think could potentially be beneficial to the company, and he’s willing to throw all of them out the window as soon as he gets your email.

Gobo had purple hair, but I think this was mostly due to the somewhat unconventional nature of the way the Fraggles were hued. In any other children’s TV show, he’d have well-groomed blonde locks like Fred from Scooby-Doo. (And maybe even a bigger penis than Velma) While most of the rest of the main Fraggles could be classified as outcasts, really there wasn’t a whole lot about Gobo that suggested he would ever break into your car or miss the new Jared Leto movie. But like his uncle Traveling Matt (whom we’ll go over later) he is an explorer which implied that he was more than just homecoming king material. With Uncle Matt to look up to as a male figure, although he was always trying to make his own way…he got the idea from somewhere else. There was an older man that he was trying to mimic AND impress.

What the producers were really trying to tell you about this Fraggle: This guy always wins, because that’s the way our world is set up. He’s always got the better car, the hotter girlfriend, and there will never be a speed bump within five miles of his house. You may also remember that Gobo was the only Fraggle that went into Doc’s workshop to get the letters from his Uncle Matt, this was sold to us as bravery but really it’s a sense of entitlement when you break it down. If there was any true street justice down at the Rock, that pup might have eventually snagged Gobo and Doc would have had himself a freezer full of Fraggle meat. But as in life, he always seemed to get away with whatever he was trying to accomplish, and just in time.

Fraggle: Mokey 

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Characteristics exhibited in the television series: Introverted, Likely Smelly, “Artistic”

Characteristics exhibited in real life before the age of 20: Huge stoner, wears a lot of clothing that could easily be upholstery, anti-establishment, Environmentally sound

Characteristics exhibited in real life after the age of 20: The bad news is that she is exact opposite of who she was previously, complete with a family and two kids. The worse news is that she still has all the hippie stories, which she will tell repeatedly until you want to pour bleach in your ears

Who she is now: The Predictably Boring Minivan Mom

Mokey is a poet and that is her primary form of creative expression. It’s a great quality to have, but unfortunately for her she is also a hippie – a lifestyle that will ensure that you’ll never even see what health insurance looks like unless you know a metric fuckton about computers. I consider Mokey to be the high school version of herself. She’s the one that wishes she was European, because that would be a a perfect explanation for the fact that she has armpit hair. She also has a “visualize whirled peas” sticker on the back of her VW station wagon and probably thinks that’s really clever.

Ironically, this is usually the first girl to rush a sorority right as soon as she finds herself abandoning kale for the gluten-soaked deliciousness of dorm food. All of a sudden those three Greek letters on her sweatshirt mean so much more than the safety of the polar bears did just two years back, and the “jungle woman” approach to hygiene has given way to tanning beds, bikini waxes, and date rape.

What the producers were really trying to tell you about this Fraggle: What I think that the producers were trying to say with Mokey is that no matter how Bonnarroo or SXSW you may truly want to be, there will always be a mothering aspect that takes over at some point. While it’s good to have a creative outlet and form of expression like Mokey, one would hope that eventually you realize that growing up is crucial to your development as a human. Poetry is an awesome art form, a great direction for creative energy, and I respect the hell out of people who do it because I can’t, but just don’t forget that at the end of the day you still have to pay your bills.

Fraggle: Red 

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Characteristics exhibited in the television series: Loud, obnoxious, misdirected, incredibly high-strung

Characteristics exhibited in real life: Chronic Alcoholism, Possession of Methamphetamine with Intent to Distribute, Failure to Appear when required by the state or when rent is due, Failure to disappear when served with eviction notice

Who she is now: The exact same person, only slightly weathered with each passing hour

I feel like I have quite the expertise in this subject since I seem to attract this particular type of woman to no end, but at the same time it’s something I’d be lying if I said I didn’t seek her out. The truth is, most guys are looking for what Red is: Sarcastic, flippant, spastic, and unpredictable. But what we don’t realize before we get hit in the head with a flying tequila bottle courtesy of Miss Crank Pigtails is that with that comes the negative side of all which turns us on about her personality. And somewhere in between is her desire to be seen and constantly heard…She’s also the closest Fraggle to the camera in the show’s title card, proving that one of her primary interests is to self-advertise.

Of course if you followed Fraggle Rock, you know that Mokey and Red eventually became roommates. This creates tension within the show, and in real life it always ends up being awkward because the girls with “Type Red” Personality don’t tend to work well in a group living situation. And unlike Muppet culture, huffing Marlboro 100s like it’s the end of the world and freebasing lithium will show the battlescars of such a lifestyle. And regardless of whether or not you’ve got two waitressing jobs, even the cheapest botox injections available with the right morse code wink at your local abortion clinic aren’t going to make it look like you’ll ever live to see fifty anyways.

What the producers were really trying to tell you about this Fraggle: I think the whole angle of Red being athletic was really just a cover up for the fact that they needed a positive aspect to her character. The producers were basically trying to tell you that no matter where you go, there’s always going to be a gingersnap who consumes ungodly amounts of speed who won’t shut the hell up. This is why Boober is so annoyed with her ramblings, and this is also why she’s usually the first person to get kicked out of the bar on Friday night. The lesson here? If you don’t have anything nice to say, maybe you should just not say anything at all. But trust me, sometimes that’s a fucking tall order. Red’s “job” in Fraggle Rock is to clean the pool because she is such a great swimmer. But in real life, we’re probably going to have ourselves a floater if you get my drift. My apologies to Karen Prell, who I’m sure is very nice and exhibits none of these characteristics to any degree.

Fraggle: Wembley 

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Characteristics exhibited in the television series: Indecisive, Wavering, Fragile

Characteristics exhibited in real life: Dopey, Will ask you to repeat yourself even though both of you know damn well he heard what you said

Who he is now: The guy who married the first girl who was dumb enough to sleep with him, runs your local pizza joint and breathes heavily

Wembley is the consumate beach bum. He’s probably been to see Jimmy Buffett live seven times, and worn the same Panama Jackass shirt to at least three of those shows. He’s Gobo’s roommate, which is the perfect match as he has no immediate plans to step on anybody’s toes. Wembley also plays the bongos, which are a very neutral instrument that requires virtually no skill whatsoever.

As the youngest member of the cast, Wembley has one very unique trait that the other Fraggles do not possess: He can roll his eyes. What does this mean? It’s sort of a hypocrisy, really. The one guy in the group that can’t make up his goddamned mind about anything is the only one who can express his dissatisfaction with other Fraggles without even saying a word. Isn’t that a bitch? This would be like a food critic holding up the line at a McDonald’s because he can’t decide what to order even though he’s seen the menu a million times over in a world where no one else should be taken seriously as a food critic.

What the producers were really trying to tell you about this Fraggle: This one is kind of funny to me because it’s a character that is supposed to have no general opinion on the day’s activities, so I can’t help but make a political analogy. The producers were trying to give us a subtle hint that people who identify as independents are a justified sector of society. But as we find down at Fraggle Rock, that’s not always a good thing. And I don’t feel that necessarily he can be pigeonholed as a libertarian, because libertarians at least have some sort of belief system. (a portion of that belief system suggests that magic can repair sinkholes for free, but that’s neither here nor there…) Wembley exists to get in your way, when in reality he can’t even get out of his own.

Fraggle: Boober

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Characteristics exhibited in the television series: Dull, Boring, Looks a lot like Brian Johnson from AC/DC

Characteristics exhibited in real life: Old Gloom and Doom, a constant obsession with depression

Who he is now: Day trader on E-Trade or Professional Ebay Merchant

One of Boober’s favorite activities is washing socks, which isn’t exactly a fireworks display of a character trait when compared to the rest of this cast. He also seems to cook for the Fraggles, his specialty being his signature radish stew that the gang loves so much. That being said, I certainly hope his third most noticeable trait is OCD from washing his hands too much because the previous two activities don’t exactly seem that sanitary when done consecutively.

Boober is not a very exciting character, and probably the least interesting out of the five main Fraggles. He wears his cap down below his eyes and looks a lot like the “Cave Fraggles”, a group of characters who are for the most part nameless to the non-obsessed viewer. He also subscribes to the theory that the only certain things in life are death and laundry. Generally negative, Boober is the guy in the room who can find the downside to almost anything great. He’s the buzzkill of the group, so it’s no surprise he gets frustrated with Red so much.

But as with any Downer Dave, the really helpful thing about Boober is that every once in a great while the danger that he foresees is real.  However the percentage of those instances is so low that the rest of the group simply can’t count on his cynicism, and sometimes feel that it disrupts their daily lives.

What the producers were really trying to tell you about this Fraggle: The lesson to be learned from Boober is that while most people have certain qualities that define them, there is a huge fragment of the public that is just boring. I understand that those people are important to keep the wheels of capitalism moving, but Boober exists to remind you that a lot of these people don’t know a life outside of watching CBS’ weekday lineup on Netflix and drinking Busch Light. Aside from their forty-hour workweek and the occasional death in the family, there’s not a whole lot of expression there. So maybe the true purpose of Mokey is to let us know that at least she’s not Boober. She has an outlet for her thoughts, whereas Boober just washes the lamest gift you get every Christmas morning. But this could work conversely – maybe the true purpose of Boober is to let us know that at least he’s not Mokey. Someone has to pay the bills and do the busywork, even if it means Mike & Molly gets renewed for another season.

Fraggle: Uncle Traveling Matt

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Characteristics exhibited in the television series: Adventurous, non-threatening, “Is this guy ever going to shut up?”

Characteristics exhibited in real life: Not nearly adventurous as he’d like you to believe, “No, Really…Is this guy ever going to shut up?”

Who he is now: Somebody who watches a lot of the Travel Channel with his pants off

Uncle Traveling Matt is Gobo’s uncle, and further proof that Gobo is the alpha male of the bunch. The term “Uncle Travelling Matt” is used as if he is the collective uncle of all the Fraggles, which is not actually the case. This is particularly telling, because he reminds you of a guy who isn’t related to you yet still speaks to you as if you’re his first born child. The show could have easily existed and still kicked a ton of ass without him, yet there he is anyway. A younger version of Uncle Matt probably lives next door to you to this very day, wears a Molly Hatchet shirt, doesn’t have a driver’s license, and you’re usually getting into your car when he shouts at you that he needs a lift to the strip club. So aside of a couple of good stories from when he was a roadie for Slaughter in the early nineties, there really isn’t a whole lot of use for this asshole.

What the producers were really trying to tell you about this Fraggle: At the heart of the concept of Uncle Traveling Matt was the reinforcement that no matter where you live, there is an elder member of your tribe that is trying to stay hip. He’s trying to communicate with Gobo to let him know that he’s still relevant, or at least trying to get himself to hang onto that thought. In other words, Uncle Traveling Matt likes to think of himself as an encyclopedia for all things in the Fraggle universe.

But keep in mind, this show was created before the explosion of the internet. Uncle Traveling Matt may have been full of information, but with all of the technological developments we now have we can get that information online as opposed to a muppet that was clearly designed to resemble Christopher Lloyd. Since we all can obviously see the internet as a massive “before and after” dividing point in our lives, there may actually be two separate messages here: At the time, there was probably a “respect your elders” and “the generation before you is full of wisdom” type of angle which was basically trying to tell my sister and I to listen to every single one of our senior family members. But now his character would be a cautionary tale and likely written differently as to steer kids from not getting into Uncle Traveling Matt’s windowless van. If you want to know how out of date this character is, remember that he kept in contact with Gobo using postcards. The last time I got a postcard from anybody, Hill Street Blues was still on TV. In other words, if this show premiered tomorrow this character would not even exist.

The Doozers

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Characteristics exhibited in the television series: Hard-working, tireless, eyeless

Characteristics exhibited in real life: Hard-working, tireless, usually missing at least one or two toes or fingers

Who they are now: Construction workers and anyone else that builds the places where we work and live

The Doozers are the typically red-state inhabiting blue-collar purveyors of the modern Internet-Satellite Epoch. They don’t necessarily build the databases, but they build the bases that house the data. And for some odd reason, they all look like John Goodman’s character from ‘Roseanne’ right after he got off of work. They wear hardhats and in true Muppet fashion, shouldn’t be able to see anything two inches in front of them because they wear their headgear like the Swedish Chef.

What the producers were really trying to tell you about the Doozers: The Doozers are the show’s true example of just how cruel the world can be…Here they build these intricate structures out of radish dust, only to have the Fraggles drop in and munch on their cash crop. Although radish dust isn’t exactly the best means by which to construct any type of architecture, the fact that the show’s good guys chow down on their livelihood is a little depressing. So possibly what’s to be learned here is that no matter how hard you work to build something, there will always be somebody there to remind you that structure is going to have to come down someday. It’s a little bit far-fetched to think that someone will eat it, but it is sort of a metaphor for the crushing blow of failure that is everyday life. The upside? Doozer Pussy would be an awesome name for all-female punk band.

Doc

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Characteristics exhibited in the television series: Enthusiastic, Tinkering

Characteristics exhibited in real life: Enthusiastic, Tinkering, Grandpa

Who he is now: Probably dead, or at a Civil War re-enactment playing someone who is dead

Doc is a garage guy…He enjoys the hell out of building his projects in his workshop, and his faithful dog Sprocket is constantly right by his side. There isn’t a whole lot for him to contribute here, but it says a lot about the stubbornness of a generation which thinks they can always fix that old radio they refuse to throw away. While Doc himself possesses the same value that we should all have as human beings, the objects with which he surrounds himself are essentially worthless. He probably thinks Garrison Keillor is the edgiest radio personality to ever exist in the medium, and is likely on quite a bit of medication. If Sprocket could talk and tell Doc that the Fraggles were indeed real before they escaped his slow lunge, Doc’s stubbornness probably wouldn’t even allow him to believe the poor pup.

What the producers were really trying to tell you about this person: Because Doc is a human, the Fraggles refer to him as a “silly creature”. This is the classic case of the pot suggesting that the kettle is generally dark-colored in nature. (That’s how a grad student would construct that sentence) Sometimes in life, the real lunatics with tails and purple colored hair are the ones suggesting someone like Doc is “silly” when almost every viewer can understand that it should be the other way around. The reality of this is that Doc is most likely your grandfather, or someone else in that age group who can provide you with the useful information that Uncle Traveling Matt can’t. But hidden in the backstory is a tale of wasted talent and overqualification – Despite his pursuits of all things technical and scientific, he spent most of his life cutting hair in a barber shop. So maybe we can take this as instruction to never give up on your dreams, but at the same time have a craft to fall back on. There might be a subtle hint of commentary on how the elderly are treated in this country, but that would be a whole different piece unto itself and this thing is long enough as it is.

Sprocket

Sprocket

Characteristics exhibited in the television series: Dumb, Slow, not particularly well-groomed but extremely loyal to Doc

Characteristics exhibited in real life: Seriously? It’s a dog…

Who he is now: Still Man’s Best Friend

Sprocket eats and sleeps in Doc’s workshop, which also is adjacent to the portal to Fraggle Rock. He’s a sheepdog, so he looks exactly like the lead singer of Nickelback did ten years ago. Clueless yet eager, he hangs on his master’s every word and looks on with wonder at whatever insane invention Doc seems to be coming with. Have you ever caught your pet looking at you when you are doing something totally redundant such as paying bills? They stare at you with this look of endearment because you’re their whole world. A large portion of that is the fact that you’re the one who fills the food bowl and scoops the litterbox, but there is some genuine dedication there as well.

What the producers were really trying to tell you about this dog: Sprocket exists in Fraggle Rock to show us about unconditional love. The relationship he has with Doc is incredibly special, and almost all of us can identify with it because we have a pet or a child. We learn to love our pets regardless of their inability to perform the tasks that we would like to think they are capable of in our own minds. My cat exists to make me happy and that’s all I need her to do. She’s not ever going to be able to recite Pi to 300 digits, and that’s okay because the real life version of Sprocket can’t do a whole lot more than sit there with his tongue out anyway. So the lesson learned here is that it’s okay to love something even though it’s motor skills or brain function may not be particularly driven to succeed beyond your wildest dreams. Sometimes true love is happiness simplified in a way which is much more effective than anything else.

The Gorgs

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Characteristics exhibited in the television series: Overweight, sad, generally unfuckable

Characteristics exhibited in real life: Anyone who is freakishly large or oversized when put next to their parents who are freakishly small or undersized

Who they are now: “Hand me that thing over there…the…Ueeeeerrrrhhh…” (passes out)

There are many similarities in the muppet world, and I would be willing to wager that a lot of the thought that went behind Snuffle-Uppugus from Sesame Street was carried over when Henson created the Gorgs. Although not necessarily what I would consider to be an intergral part of the show, the Gorgs brought another family into the mix which created a second-level substory.

Ma and Pa Gorg, a couple of real lookers from Henson’s fantasy world raise this leech by the name of Junior who is a tad slow to say the least. Failing to grasp the simplest of concepts, everyday for Junior is a struggle which keeps the viewer wondering why he’s been given so many chances after showing such little progress. He looks like exactly like Chum Lee from Pawn Stars, and probably isn’t a huge fan of reading. This is the guy who goes over his list at the grocery store as if it’s his living will. Every minor decision takes forever to contemplate, but don’t use that word around him because if he tries to spell it you could be stuck in that aisle for months.

What the producers were really trying to tell you about the Gorgs: The theme here was that sometimes young people just never grow up, and that was we got with Junior Gorg. According to Muppet Wiki, Junior’s love interest in Fraggle Rock to be Geraldine. This is perfectly normal if you leave out the part where Geraldine was the biggest radish in the Gorgs’ garden. I’m not sure if fruitophilia was a serious issue in the muppet community at the time, but if you ever catch your 43 year old son who still lives at home deep-dicking a honey melon this would be a pretty decent spot to drop the blame off.

Running concept within the show – Radishes

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What they represent in real life: Money or anything you are chasing

I’m assuming that the Fraggles never had savings accounts or any other means by which to invest their radish accumulations, and like everything else that happened in the 1980s I’m sure that it’s all Reagan’s fault. Since no banking options were available for Muppets, their version of currency was the radish. And although it was never really discussed within the series, I’m sure that the Fraggles were not too particularly skilled when it came to rationing their cash crop. I make this assessment because if they had been, they wouldn’t have been so dead set on chowing down the Doozer’s structures. If you really think about it, that was the single destructive tendency that all of the Fraggles collectively possessed.

And this is why the radish thing pertains to currency…When it comes to money, almost everyone is willing to adjust their moral beliefs and standards because money makes the world go ’round.  But it doesn’t have to be that…the radish could be almost anything that you are chasing in your life. As crazy as it sounds, the radish could be the stereotypical American dream.

I guess there was probably some kind of underlying agenda involving getting kids to eat greens during a time where health food was almost nowhere to be found at food stores. I envision this agenda as the result of a meeting behind closed doors between Henson and the Big Vegetable lobby that reeked of American Spirit cigarettes and carrot juice. “Listen up Jim, today’s youth can only sneak celery under the table to the dog for so long. And let’s be honest, even they aren’t into this shit. We need a whole race of Muppets to show them that nothing is cooler than what goes into a salad!”

Summary

So what does this all mean? Who the fuck knows. But it was a great show, and compared to the garbage they spoonfeed children these days it was classic. What I can take away from Fraggle Rock after thirty six years on this earth was that it indeed takes all kinds to make the world go round.

We all have flaws, and nobody is perfect. (Let’s pretend for the sake of this argument that I don’t count) Character traits that can be viewed as negative or uncomfortable are just as real in a show like this as they are in real life. You’re never going to be able to avoid the quirks that people have, and if you simply see the bad in others you’re going to miss out on some potentially awesome life experiences.

The one thing that always held true about the Fraggles is they were all friends when the day was done. They lived under an old man with a smelly ass dog in a poorly lit cave amongst miniature architects that looked like something out of a bad acid flashback. All of this took place without shouting distance of a family of ogres and a talking trash heap. They survived on a diet comprised entirely of a vegetable that everybody hates, and despite all of this they always seemed like they were having a blast. They didn’t argue about race or politics on Facebook, and I guarantee you they weren’t too concerned with whichever celebrities were banging each other week to week. They were too busy being there for each other to care about things like that.

So maybe there’s an awful lot to be learned here – the most important being that regardless of your environmental obstacles and surroundings you may not always succeed, but at the very least you can always entertain yourself.

Because if you can’t do that, then your imagination is truly dead.

And that’s what I learned down at Fraggle Rock.

Once again thanks for visiting First Order Historians and enjoying more of the internet’s finest in user generated content.

Meehan

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